Monday 23 March 2009


Buttonholing when your machine hates you

My sewing machine has about a million different buttonhole functions that automatically calibrate and / or sew a variety of different buttonholes at the push of a pedal. Allegedly. If I'm feeling optimistic and good-natured, I might trust it on something thin like quilter's cotton. But it never works for my coats as the thickness of the fabric confuses the machine and the only things that are automatic are screw-ups, tears and lots of time with a seam-ripper. As buttonholes are often the last thing done to finish off a garment, I've started playing it completely safe and I sew them manually with a tight zigzag. So I thought I would share how I do it for any of you that also have untrustworthy sadistic machines.

Place your buttons as you wish them to be. Using tailor's chalk, draw a line to the left and the right of the buttons.

Using a ruler, draw a line perpendicular to the side edges. This will be your guide for stitching the buttonhole.

You can't see this terribly well, but I then baste along this center line with a contrasting thread. I find this easier to follow than the chalk.

Using a tight zigzag stitch (I use 1.5 for the width and 0.2 for the length), sew down the right hand side of your guide line.

Repeat down the left side of the guide line resulting in two parallel lines with the basted line in the centre.

Carefully cut along your guide line. I used to do this with a seam ripper but it pulls at the fabric and can make it warp or wrinkle (and it's so much easier to rip too big a hole). Now I use a sharp craft knife and the result is so much better.

Test your hole with your button to make sure it's the right size. Increase the hole at the edges in very small increments if it's too tight.

Once you are happy with the length of your buttonholes, use the same zigzag along the open edges of your buttonhole, making enclosed rectangles.

Increase your zigzag width (I use 2.5 for width and keep it at 0.2 for length). Starting at the top center of your buttonhole, stitch down the right side again, using your fingers to open the buttonhole. The blue lines in the picture shows how the left side of the zig zag will fall at the outer edge of your original zigzag and the right side of your zigzag will go into the hole itself. This will bind and enclose all of your raw edges where you cut and give it a neater finish.

You're done!


  1. Thank you for this! I have auto buttonholes on my machine also, but every time I use it they look horrid. I will be using this method next time!

  2. Thank you thank you thank you!! I am a beginner sewer and I own just a basic machine. It has a button hole function but the few times I tried it, it was a mess!! I have a coat just waiting for buttons but I was terrified to do it. Now I can do it your way with a little more confidence I think :)

  3. Thank you!! I think my buttonhole foot is evil ;-)